It may surprise many people to know that the northern country of Iceland is an ideal place for hiking or trekking tours. While many assume that Iceland, known as the “land of fire and ice,” is completely covered in ice and snow, nothing could be further from the truth. The natural beauty of the countryside, generally moderate climate, pristine fresh air, and fascinating sights make Iceland a great choice for the serious hiker who is looking for something a bit different. National Geographic Traveler Magazine recently named Iceland one of its best travel destinations in the world, and one visit will show you why!
A walking tour of Iceland will normally include some coach tour travel, but we can guarantee that you will have the opportunity for miles and miles of walking, if you decide to visit. We suggest that your itinerary include visits to some of the following:
Southwest of Reykjavik lies Thingvellir National Park. Nestled in a rift valley, the park contains beautiful scenery, but it is most notable for its historical significance. Iceland’s earliest known settlers established their ancient parliament building within the grounds, and its Viking ruins are protected today by their inclusion in a national park. If you visit, take time to hear the tales of fabled Norse settlers. The park area also includes stunning natural attractions, such as the Gulfoss Waterfall, which flows into the Hvítá River. Because Iceland is a volcanic island, underground pressure also creates periodic bubbling mud pots and steaming vents in the area. Depending upon the time of year, a visit to this area may include a sighting of the famed Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.
Nowhere in the island country is its rugged beauty more evident than along Iceland’s South Coast. The scenery changes quickly from valleys to mountains, glaciers, and nature preserves. What dream landscapes it offers for a hiker ready for the challenge! Hellisheidi Mountain rises from the mists, and small villages dot the countryside. It’s worth a trek to another lovely site, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. Most coastal visitors flock to Thorsmork, a nature preserve bracketed by mountains and glaciers. The glade area provides excellent terrain for hikers, and camping is available. Venture further in the Thorsmork Valley to discover new volcanic craters that were formed only two years ago during an eruption. The heat of the lava under the surface can still be felt here. Another great park for hikers is Skaftafell National Park, where an uphill hikes leads to spectacular views of Vatnajokul, the world’s largest icecap outside the poles.
Iceland’s most famous mountain, Mt. Hekla is also the country’s second most active volcano. Located in South Iceland, it towers above the surrounding farmlands. Icelandic legend held that Mt. Hekla was the gateway to hell, and for centuries no one ventured to climb it. But today it is a popular if challenging route for veteran hikers. The terrain consists primarily of rough lava fields, with snow and ice near the peak. The hike takes from three to four hours, but is worth the effort. At the top, you’ll have a panoramic view of Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, and the Fjallabak Mountains. On the trek to and from the volcano, you’ll enjoy the surprisingly green countryside, containing former lava flows now covered in green moss. Look for ancient farms and houses along the lowlands below Mt. Hekla.
The travel sites we’ve suggested are included in many trekking tours of Iceland. If you’re a serious hiker, you’ll appreciate the many mapped paths that exist throughout the country. Because of its “extreme” landscapes, international hikers consider Iceland an ideal destination for serious hiking. Visit the land of fire and ice, and you’ll understand why.